At the end of this week, the 110th Congress will have been at work for 100 days. Senate Democrats have already made significant strides in passing important legislation in ethics reform, homeland security, troop readiness, veterans care, Iraq policy, health care access, economic security, energy independence, medical research, and Gulf Coast revitalization. After nearly a decade of Republican control, Democrats are delivering on our promise to take America in a new direction.
Transparency, Accountability, and Ethics in Washington
Senate Democrats passed comprehensive ethics and lobbying reform. Americans have sent a clear message that unethical and illegal behavior in government will no longer be tolerated. Democrats responded by making ethics reform their first priority in the 110th Congress. In January, the Senate passed S.1, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, which would strengthen internal Senate rules regarding gifts and travel, slow the “revolving door” for former Senators and staff, expand lobbying disclosure requirements, establish a study commission on ethics and lobbying, prohibit pensions for Members of Congress convicted of certain crimes, and implement reform procedures relating to earmarks and conference reports. This legislation represents the toughest, most sweeping ethics reform in a generation.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Senate Democrats Passed the Toughest, Most Sweeping Ethics Reform in a Generation, for more information on this legislation.
The Senate passed bipartisan legislation to restore checks and balances to the appointment process for United States Attorneys. The recent probe into the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for allegedly political reasons has revealed incompetent, at best, and illegal, at worst, action by officials at the highest levels of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the White House. The Bush Administration has called into question the independence of the DOJ and U.S. Attorneysacross the nation. House and Senate Democrats are committed to conducting a full investigation into the firings and ensuring proper checks and balances in the selection of future U.S. Attorneys.
In March, the Senate passed S.214, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, which ensures the Senate’s role in the confirmation of U.S. Attorneys. Under a provision that was slipped into the USA Patriot Act reauthorization in 2006, the appointment process for U.S. Attorneys was altered so that the Attorney General could appoint “interim” U.S. Attorneys indefinitely – thus completely avoiding the Senate confirmation process. S.214 would restore the process that existed for 20 years prior to the 2006 change and would require an interim appointment made by the Attorney General to expire after 120 days or when a permanent U.S. Attorney is nominated by the President and confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate. After the 120 days, if a successor is not in place, the U.S. District Court would then appoint the U.S. Attorney. Returning to this effective, proven process will ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place for the appointment of U.S. Attorneys. The effectiveness and legitimacy of the federal justice system depends upon it.
See the DPC Legislative Bulletin entitled, S.214, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, for more information on this legislation.
Better Pay for Working Americans
Democrats sought better pay for working Americans by passing legislation to raise the federal minimum wage. In February, after a ten year battle, Congress passed H.R.2, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. The bill, which will raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour in three steps over two years, will benefit 13 million workers and help reverse years of wage stagnation without harming the economy. Of those who would be directly or indirectly benefited, nearly 59 percent are women and 46 percent are their family’s sole breadwinner. Moreover, this raise of $2.10 per hour will benefit well-over six million children under the age of 18 whose parents will receive an increase in earnings. As the House and Senate work to clear the bill for the President’s signature, the nation can be assured that Democrats are dedicated to giving workers their long overdue raise.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Senate Democrats Voted to Move the Country in A New Direction, Towards Better Pay, for more information on this legislation
Senate Democrats led the way toward implementing key 9/11 Commission recommendations. Senate Democrats first priority is to protect our nation from further terrorist attack. After years of inadequate action on critical homeland security needs, the Senate passed S.4, the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007. This bill will make America more secure by giving our first responders the tools they need to keep us safe, making it more difficult for potential terrorists to travel into our country; advancing efforts to secure our rail, air, and mass transit systems; and improving intelligence and information sharing between state, local, and federal law enforcement.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Democrats’ New Direction for Homeland Security Will Make America More Secure, for more information on this legislation.
The Senate provided emergency funds to address National Guard equipment shortfalls. In March, the Senate passed H.R.1591, the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007 (2007 Emergency Supplemental), which would provide an additional $1 billion to President Bush’s request for the National Guard equipment needs. In January, General Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, testified that 88 percent of Guard units are rated as unready (a historic high) and the Army National Guard has only 40 percent of its necessary equipment stock. General Blum warned that these shortfalls are compromising the quality of force training and limiting the Guard’s ability to quickly respond to disasters at home. Given the potential natural and man-made dangers that face our nation, adequately funding the National Guard is vital to our safety and security.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Overstretched and Under Strain: Bush Administration Mismanagement of Our Military Leaves Us Less Capable of Responding to Threats at Home and Around the World, for more information on this issue.
Democrats funded efforts to better secure American borders and transit systems. The Senate-passed 2007 Emergency Supplemental would provide $2 billion in funding necessary to address dangerous border and transit vulnerabilities left open by the Bush Administration since 9/11. This allocation includes hundreds of millions of dollars to protect American rail and mass transportation systems, install Explosive Detection Systems at airports, screen air cargo, and implement security measures at our nation’s ports.
Supporting, Honoring, and Caring for Our Troops and Veterans
The Democrat-led Senate provided funds to support our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, Democrats matched the President’s request for funding for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, this includes funding to support the 140,000 troops deployed in Iraq and 20,000 in Afghanistan and as well as funds for the escalation force of 21,000 combat troops and 4,729 support personnel in Iraq and 7,200 troops in Afghanistan.
Democrats also added funding to protect our troops against improvised explosive devices. In addition to the President’s funding request, the 2007 Emergency Supplemental includes $1.5 billion in additional funding to provide our troops in Iraq with mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs). If signed by the President, these emergency funds will ensure that 2,500 MRAPs reach our troops by the end of this year.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Overstretched and Under Strain: Bush Administration Mismanagement of Our Military Leaves Us Less Capable of Responding to Threats at Home and Around the World, for more information on this legislation.
Senate Democrats would boost funding to treat wounded soldiers. The neglect and mismanagement discovered at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center has highlighted the Bush Administration’s lack of focus on the well-being of our nation’s veterans and servicemembers. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental would provide $2.5 billion in funds for military health care, which is $1.3 billion above the amount the President requested. In addition to investing in military hospital improvements, the supplemental bill would also allocate $100 million for brain trauma injury and post traumatic stress disorder treatment and research.
Democrats are also committed to investing in the resources needed to care for our veterans. One of the best ways to honor American veterans for their service and sacrifice in past and current conflicts is by providing them high-quality, comprehensive care once they return home. In both the emergency supplemental and S.Con.Res.21, the Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Resolution, Senate Democrats increased funding for veterans health programs.
The 2007 Emergency Supplemental would provide nearly 1.8 billion in funds to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to accommodate the increasing number of new veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, improve metal health and readjustment counseling services, and fund new polytrauma centers for the severally injured.
The Senate’s 2008 Budget Resolution, passed in March,would allocate $43.1 billion for veterans in 2008, which is more than $3 billion above the President’s Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request. The resolution represents 98 percent of the level requested in the Independent Budget, a plan developed by four leading veterans groups. The resolution also rejects the President’s proposal to increase TRICARE co-payments and to impose new fees and higher co-payments on certain veterans, which, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates, would result in more than 100,000 veterans leaving the VA health care system.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Pattern of Neglect: The Bush Administration is Failing Our Troops and Veterans, for more information on this legislation.
A Much-Needed New Strategy for Iraq
Democrats are delivering on our promise to change course in Iraq. The Senate-passed 2007 Emergency Supplemental calls for a gradual redeployment of troops in conjunction with concerted efforts to train and equip the Iraqi security forces and to build regional and international support for the Iraqi government. The legislation directs the President, within 120 days of enactment, to begin to redeploy troops from Iraq, with a goal of having only a limited number of troops remaining in the country on March 31, 2008. Some American forces would remain in Iraq for force protection, training and equipping Iraqi troops, and targeted counterterrorism operations. The legislation also includes a series of benchmarks for the Iraqis to meet as well as requirements for regular progress reports to Congress. It does not include any restriction on funding for the troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.
With this provision, Senate Democrats have demanded a change in policy in Iraq that would transition the mission of U.S. forces and advance a new comprehensive economic, diplomatic, and political strategy to bring stability to the country and bring to a close the United States’ open-ended commitment in Iraq. This new direction would allow the United States to refocus much-needed resources on hunting down Osama bin Laden, countering the threat posed by al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks, and stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan,.
Health Care Access, Educational Opportunities, and Economic Assistance for Working Families
The Senate-passed 2008 Budget Resolution would greatly expand children’s health care coverage and combat our nation’s health care crisis. Due in part to Republican budget cuts and decreases in employer-sponsored health insurance, the number of uninsured children has increased significantly during the Bush Administration to nearly nine million (more than 11 percent of children). In the face of this crisis, programs like the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which insures low-income children who do not qualify for Medicaid but whose families cannot afford private insurance, have become increasingly important.
The Bush Administration, however, has consistently under-funded the SCHIP program. The President’s 2008 Budget Request proposes to provide a net increase of $2 billion over five years in new federal funds for SCHIP. While proposing an increase in funding, the Bush budget would reduce the federal matching rate for children in families with incomes above 200 percent of the federal poverty-line, i.e. modest-income Americans. The result would be a federal funding shortfall in the states that would lead to the loss of health insurance coverage for hundreds of thousands of children.
Senate Democrats believe that this is unacceptable. The 2008 Budget Resolution would provide up to $50 billion for SCHIP over five years to expand coverage to an estimated six million more children while maintaining coverage for all currently-enrolled individuals. Further, to address this year’s shortfalls, which would have left 14 states without money to provide full SCHIP coverage, the 2007 Emergency Supplemental would include $747 million in funding to SCHIP. Democrats are committed to solving our nation’s health care crisis.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Fewer Working Parents are Able to Obtain Private Health Insurance, for more information on this issue.
Democrats have made funding for education and training programs a key priority in the 110th Congress. A quality education is the first step on the road to achieving the American dream of advancement and economic prosperity. For many Americans, job training is the second step. As a result, the 2008 Budget Resolution would provide an increase in discretionary spending for education and training programs of $9.2 billion above President Bush’s 2008 Budget Request. From the crib to the university, Democrats will invest in key education programs, including Head Start, Pell Grants, and programs authorized by the Individuals with Disabilities EducationAct and No Child Left Behind Act. The Senate’s Budget Resolution would also reject the President’s proposal to cut funding for critical employment and job training programs in the Department of Labor.
Democrats have once again invested in energy assistance programs for low income families. Since 2001, home heating costs have increased by 59 percent, and the price of electricity to cool homes in the summer has increased by 29 percent. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental provides $640 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps American families by assisting them with home heating and cooling costs.
Protecting Middle-Class Taxpayers
Democrats are also working to eliminate unfair tax burdens on middle-class Americans. Skyrocketing health care, education, housing, and gas costs have placed middle-class families in a tight economic squeeze. Making matters worse, more and more of these families are being forced to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which was originally intended only for the super-wealthy to ensure that they paid a minimum tax. The 2008 Budget Resolution would protect middle-class taxpayers by providing AMT relief for 2007 and 2008 – one year more than the President – and prevent millions of middle-class taxpayers from being subjected to the tax.
The budget passed by Senate Democrats would provide further tax relief for working Americans. The 2008 Budget Resolution anticipates that there will be a significant surplus in 2012. Democrats are committed to returning that surplus – created by the people – to the people by:
- extending the child tax credit so that it will remain at $1,000 per child;
- extending relief from the marriage penalty;
- enhancing the dependent care credit to help families deal with the high cost of raising children; and
- strengthening the adoption credit so that would-be parents can afford adoption costs.
Senate Democrats recognize the burdens placed on middle-class families and remain dedicated to alleviating the middle-class squeeze.
Energy Independence and Environmental Protection
The Democrat-led Senate has rejected funding cuts to energy and environment programs. Democrats took a first step toward a national energy policy that promotes energy independence, protects the environment, and confronts global climate change by increasing funding for energy and environment programs in Fiscal Year 2007. H.J.Res.20, the Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2007, increased funding for basic science research at the Department of Energy by $200 million and for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs by $300 million. Efficiency and conservation are the cheapest and fastest ways to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
In the 2008 Budget Resolution, Senate Democrats sought to increase funding for energy and environmental programs, which have sustained dramatic cuts during the Bush Administration. Among many other cuts, the Bush Administration reduced funding for clean water, public lands, oceans, climate research, energy efficiency and conservation, and energy cost assistance for low-income Americans. While the Administration has cut these important programs, the President, in his 2008 Budget Request, failed to repeal lucrative subsidies for oil and gas companies.
See DPC Fact Sheet entitled, President Bush’s Budget Cuts Environmental, Natural Resource and Energy Independence Programs, for more information on this issue.
Rebuilding the Gulf Coast
Democrats are committed to investing in and rebuilding the Gulf Coast region. More than a year and a half after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast, much of the region’s economy, infrastructure, and housing remains devastated. Failures of the insurance industry, increased crime, and the breakdown of many social services have made it even more difficult for long-time residents to return to and rebuild their homes and lives. The situation has caused many to wonder whether the Bush Administration has forgotten about the Gulf Coast. Democrats, however, are committed to ensuring that the Gulf Coast receives the necessary funds to continue the recovery effort. The Senate-passed 2007 Emergency Supplemental provides a total of $6.7 billion for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including $1.7 billion to complete levee and drainage repairs, $70 million to reduce violent crime in Gulf Coast states, and $115 million to repair the seafood and fisheries industries, which is vital to the region’s economic recovery.
Advancing Stem Cell Research
Democrats are committed to expanding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells have the unique ability to develop into virtually every cell and tissue in the body, and this research is giving hope to millions of people with debilitating diseases and disabilities who may one day benefit from embryonic stem cell therapies. Scientists report that the restrictions President Bush has imposed on the number of stem cell lines eligible for federally funded research is hindering progress. Last year, the President vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have expanded the number of embryonic stem cell lines eligible for federally funded research.
Undeterred, this week, the Senate has again passed legislation to expand the number of human embryonic stem cells eligible for federally-funded research. S.5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, directs the Health and Human Services Secretary to conduct and support embryonic stem cell research, regardless of when the stem cells were derived, provided that: 1) the stem cells were derived from embryos donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for fertility treatment, and are in excess of what was needed for those treatments; 2) the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded; and 3) the individuals who donated embryos have provided their written informed consent and have not received any financial or other inducements for making the donation.
S.5 has the support of the overwhelming majority of Americans, as well as major medical and scientific associations, research universities and institutions, and dozens of patient advocacy organizations. Democrats, as well as many Republicans, have urged President Bush not to veto this bill and thereby continue to tie the hands of scientists and hinder future medical advances.
See DPC Fact Sheet entitled, NIH Director Agrees that Federally Funded Scientists Should Have Access to New Embryonic Stem Cell Lines, for more information on this issue.